A Conversation With House Speaker Nancy Pelosi

Thursday, June 13, 2019
Don Pollard
Nancy Pelosi

Speaker, U.S. House of Representatives

Fareed Zakaria

Host, Fareed Zakaria GPS, CNN; Former Managing Editor, Foreign Affairs; Member, Board of Directors, Council on Foreign Relations

ZAKARIA: Thank you, David. You know, David is an extraordinary chairman of the Council and a multitalented person. He is a very distinguished financier, built this extraordinary business, and he’s always been very nice to me. But then one day I noticed, I turned on the TV and there he was with his own television show—(laughter)—interviewing his own guests, and doing it so well that it’s sort of got me a little nervous. 

So, Madam Speaker I know you have had a few leadership challenges. And I just want to point out to you that you may think they’re all over, but you have—the unconventional one may still present itself. So if David Rubenstein offers to renovate the Longworth Office Building, I would—I would wonder about that because, you know, maybe on your next foreign trip you’ll turn on the TV and discover that David is— 

PELOSI: Speaker. 

ZAKARIA: —presiding over the House of Representatives. (Laughter.) But, David, thank you. 

Madam Speaker, Henry Kissinger says those who need no introduction crave them the most. (Laughter, applause.) But I—but I know this is not—this is not true of you, so I will simply say Janet Napolitano, who is also a member of the board, said to me—and I think I have her permission to quote—saying, Nancy Pelosi might well be the most powerful woman in the world right now. So that’s my introduction. (Applause.) 

PELOSI: Well, I thank you so much for the invitation to be here. David, we call him the pride of Baltimore. Your admonition is well-taken, though, because every place I he’s the chairman of the board. (Laughter.) Kennedy Center—the Kennedy Center, the Smithsonian. 

ZAKARIA: Just hold onto your seat, that’s all. (Laughter.) 

PELOSI: He’s a leader. And I say, David, how do you have time to do all this? He says, I don’t play golf. (Laughter.) There are many people who don’t play golf, but they don’t have anywhere near his accomplishments. David, thank you for being the person who you are doing so many things in the arts, and education—oh, and Duke University—well, the list goes on and on. So thank you, David. 

And thank you, Fareed. Thank you, Richard Haass. Thank you, Mimi Haas. Thank you for making this weekend possible. Excuse me, Johnny? 

Q: It’s all in memory of Peter. 

PELOSI: Yes, I know. Mimi is saying that this sponsorship of the weekend is in memory of Peter Haas, Mimi’s husband—late husband. Peter Haas. He and Mimi and their entire Haas family have been a source of so many good things in our community, in California, but in the world really. And they’ve done it very quietly, whether it’s the arts, education, University of California, whether it’s sports—don’t forget, the Warriors are on tonight. (Laughter.) But baseball is there. And the list goes on and on. And now her sons are carrying on the tradition of great civil engagement and philanthropy to make the future better. That’s what the Haas family has been about. Thank you, Mimi. Thank you so much. (Applause.) Mimi was reminding me that we’ve known each other for forty-six years. Don’t tell anybody. (Laughter.) A very long time. Thank you, Mimi. 

And as far as Richard Haass is concerned, we always want to know, what does Richard think? So we always tune into what he thinks. And as far as Fareed is concerned, with his show, I don’t—I don’t tune into too much TV, but it’s very soothing to be informed in a calm, intellectual way about what’s going on in the world. And then, with the excitement of GPS, so you know it’s about the future. Thank you, Fareed, for what you do. I just want to acknowledge Bernard Schwartz and his wife Denise who are here, my dear, dear friends. And sad about Marty, but also thanking members of the board who are leaving and who are here. 

So, yeah, it’s an interesting time, isn’t it? (Laughter.) What do you want to talk about? The Warriors? U.S.-Canada relationships on the basketball court? 

ZAKARIA: So, Madam Speaker—(laughter)—pleasure to have you. Donald Trump says he’s done with you. 

PELOSI: No, no. I said that about him. Done with him. (Laughs.) 

ZAKARIA: So Donald Trump says that he really doesn’t like you, right? He said this publicly. Why is it—why do you think—why do you get under his skin? 

PELOSI: As I said to a reporter today, analyzing the thinking—I use the word loosely—of the—(laughter)—of the president of the United States is not what I spend my time on. I was kind of disappointed, though, when we were in Normandy. I just took a big—fifty-seven House members, Democrats and Republicans, evenly divided like Noah’s Ark—one Democrat, one Republican—to Normandy, and in the morning I was on Andrea Mitchell and she asked me something about the president.  

I said it is my practice, our custom—everybody respects it—that when we are overseas we never criticize the president of the United States. And we were right there in Normandy with the tombstones behind us and the rest, so I just wasn’t going to engage in that. But I never do anyway. It’s our practice. When he then came on TV later in front of the same tombstones and started saying all this stuff, it was so beyond inappropriate I felt really sorry for him. 

ZAKARIA: But why do you think—do you think—let me posit something. Do you think there’s something about you being a strong woman who has bested him in the—in the shutdown? Do you think that has something to do with it? 

PELOSI: Well, there’s some New Yorkers in the crowd, right? (Laughter.) What the New Yorkers told me—women in New York—told me when he became president, they said, here’s what he will do; it’s what he always does. First, he will flatter, then he will bully, and then he will sue. That’s just how he—(laughter)—that’s what he does. And he’s true to form. True to form.  

But our country is so great, and here we were in Normandy with sixty members—fifty-seven. Three—one thing or another, illness in the family—fifty-seven, and it was almost twenty senators, House and—Senate Democrats and Republicans, as well, over there to pay our respects to our men—the courage of those who invaded Normandy. It was the biggest naval invasion in the history of the world, if not the biggest invasion, under President—who would be president, Eisenhower. Such an incredible thing. And it was—we were there to honor our veterans, many of whom were there, in their nineties—many in their nineties—and that was our purpose, to thank them, but also as a recognition of the cooperation of our—with our allies that made that success possible, and we have to remember that that was central to how we saved civilization as well as protected our freedom as we go forward.  

So this whole idea of protecting, of course, our country, first and foremost—that’s our oaths that we take, to protect and defend—but to recognize that the collaboration with our allies is a very, very important part of all that. It was then. It still is now. 

ZAKARIA: Do you think that the country is ready for impeachment hearings? 

PELOSI: Here’s my thing. Our Founders—we were so blessed with our Founders, and many of us are history buffs—it’s why many of us are here—and we do believe that foreign policy should be nonpartisan, should stop—that debate should stop at the river’s—water’s edge. It doesn’t always. But, basically, coming back to one guidance that our Founders gave us, of all the great documents—and thank God they made the Constitution amendable—but with all the greatness of the documents they gave us, they gave us a guidance—E pluribus unum—from many one.  

They couldn’t imagine how many we would become or how different we would be from each other. But they knew that we had to be one, and in all that we do, in my role as Speaker of the House and I believe my—most of my colleagues subscribe to it, is try to find as much common ground as you can. Strive for oneness rather than division.  

I don’t think there’s anything more divisive we can do than to impeach a president of the United States, and so you have to handle it with great care. It has to be about the truth and the facts to take you to whatever decision has to be there. It should by no means be done politically. You shouldn’t impeach politically and you shouldn’t not impeach politically.  

But we must always remember we have a responsibility for oneness because that is the strength of our—that is the strength of our country. I always say our diversity is our strength. In our caucus, we are very diverse. Our diversity is our strength. But our unity is our power. That’s what gives us leverage in the rest of the world, that we are the United States of America. 

ZAKARIA: There are several Democrats who are running for president who are calling for impeachment. 

PELOSI: Yeah, I know. 

ZAKARIA: Elizabeth Warren. If one of them gets nominated, the two leaders of the Democratic Party will be somewhat at odds on this issue. 

PELOSI: Well, you never know where we’ll be by the time one of them gets nominated, but it is—again, we are on—legislate, that’s our responsibility. We promised lower healthcare costs, bigger paychecks, rebuilding the infrastructure of America, cleaner government—introducing legislation to make our government clear of—taking out voter suppression, all of that. 

So that’s what we promised, that’s what we’re doing. We’ve passed legislation to that effect, and we continue to do so. Legislate, investigate—we have cause, there was an assault on our country, an assault on our democratic institution of elections. We have a responsibility to get to the bottom of that, and because of the resistance that we’re getting from the White House, we must litigate. So as we investigate and litigate, we’ll go where the facts take us with all due respect to whoever may be president of the United States. It really doesn’t matter. What matters are the facts. It’s not about partisanship, it’s not Democrats and—not about partisanship. It’s about patriotism, about what we must do. 

And the—how can I say this? I love the press. They are the guardians of our democracy. Freedom of the press is so important—right, David Bradley? Right? However, they just have an obsession with talking about impeachment, and every time one of my members says that foreign—oh, pressure is on. Pressure is not on. I respect everybody’s opinion about where they think we are on this, but I also respect the work of our chairmen in terms of legislate, investigate, litigate. And we have that responsibility to find out what happened. 

What’s sad for us is that this is a(n) admitted assault on our democracy. Every agency—intelligence agency has high confidence that this happened, there is proof, and the rest. The Mueller report subscribes to that, and the president of the United States says it’s a hoax. A hoax. 

The president of the United States should be the one taking the lead to look into what happened there, and instead he’s saying, they could do it again. There’s something very wrong with this picture. 

So, in any event, the facts, the truths, what’s right for our country in the most unifying way, not dividing way. 

ZAKARIA: The attorney general has been held in contempt by a House committee. There are two paths that you can go down. The House can vote criminal contempt or civil contempt. In either case, I assume the Department of Justice will not be indicting the attorney general. You have a sergeant at arms in the House. You actually have a jail cell in the basement. (Laughter.) 

PELOSI: We used to. I think it’s turned into a— 

ZAKARIA: What are you—what are you going to do? What are you going to do if Bill Barr does not—you know, if the—will the House hold him in criminal contempt? 

PELOSI: Well, the criminal contempt takes a little bit—there’s a reason they went down the path they went down, and I have confidence in our committees. I’m a big believer in the committee system, let the members do the investigating and the rest and make their recommendations. 

It’s a very sad thing. The attorney general of the United States lied under oath to the Congress of the United States, but that’s not even why he was—(laughs)—held in contempt. It was because of his refusal to obey a subpoena. And so it will take its—see, it’s all about the courts. 

ZAKARIA: But what happens. What— 

PELOSI: It’s all about the courts. 

ZAKARIA: He’s not going to—the Department of Justice is not going to enforce anything you ask of them against him, right? 

PELOSI: But it’s in the courts. It’s the Constitution, the beautiful Constitution of checks and balances; the heart of the matter, separation of power. They don’t—the courts will determine that—any disagreement between the executive—the legislative, which is the first branch of government—the legislative and the executive branch. And so we’re going to the courts, and we think we have a good case. We won the first two cases, which were unequivocal about there’s no question that the Congress has oversight responsibilities and should have access to the information. Article III, actually—no—you know, Article III of the Articles of Impeachment for Richard Nixon were that he refused to obey impeachment—the subpoenas of the House of Representatives. 

But it’s very—it’s very hard to understand how the Republicans in Congress have no support for the institution in which they serve, to support and defend the Constitution and the rights of the House of—well, the Congress, House and Senate, as well as the assault on our elections. We don’t know how long that will last. But as more information unfolds, we hope to get to the—to the bottom of it. Yeah. 

ZAKARIA: Let’s turn to foreign policy. The secretary of state has just said— 

PELOSI: Please. Thank you. I don’t want to—(laughter). 

ZAKARIA: Well, I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t ask some of those questions. 

The secretary of state says that the attacks on the two tankers in the—around the Straits of Hormuz were Iranian, done by the Iranian government. Do you think that we are in for a possible military confrontation between the United States and Iran? 

PELOSI: Well, I certainly hope not. But for people of a certain age, and students of history, Straits of Hormuz gives you chills. When I—oh my goodness. But I do think that the secretary has not offered any proof of this. He’s just said what he’s said. And it’s not unbelievable that a country might exercise its leverage. And here, the Prime Minister of Japan is in—if he’s not still there, he was there yesterday, Abe, in Iran. And so we’ll see what that is, but we have absolutely no appetite for going to war to be provocative to create situations that might evoke responses where mistakes could be made. You know, it’s one—countries exercise their leverage, they threaten, they this or that. But there could be mistakes made. And that’s a very dangerous thing. 

Here, we were up almost all night with our appropriations bill, but at the same time the, during the night, the defense—the Armed Services Committee was writing the defense bill. And in the defense bill, which they ended at 7:00 this morning, they put in there nothing in the bill would be considered an authorization of use of military force against Iran, that the administration would try to use some authorities that are, frankly, nonexistent. But we have to—the American people have no appetite for a war with Iran. I don’t think the president does. The president wasn’t for the war in Iraq, as you know. And so I think—I think this is— 

ZAKARIA: Well, he was for it before he was against it, I think, he changed his mind on it a little. 

PELOSI: Well, as I say, I can’t—I’m too busy to be worrying about if, and when, and what he did. But he tells me all the time, I was against the war in Iraq. So that is going from what he said. 

But it is—this is a very dangerous situation. If I just make—just go back a little bit, what is his motivation? What is their motivation to be provocative with the Iranians? Why did the president turn his back on the Iranian nuclear agreement? This was an agreement that was masterful. It was a diplomatic virtuoso performance, on the secretary of state John Kerry, and Hillary before him, others involved, and all of these countries. Russia and China never would do any sanctions on Iran—never. They wouldn’t, because Iran could be a source of fundamentalist activity in their regions, both China and in—so they always look the other way with Iranian this or that. So that they would be part of this agreement. So from a diplomatic standpoint, it was remarkable, the countries that came together. 

From a nuclear standpoint, the letter from the—among other things, but I’d just spot one letter from the nuclear physicists, some of them Nobel laureates and all of this, wrote that this bill should be the template for nuclear agreement—nonproliferation agreements. Should be the template. Moniz, the secretary of energy, knows this stuff so well, communicating with the Iranians so they understood that he understood, and the others as well. So when we voted for that, and the Congress voted to support the president on that, it was having heard from all of the ambassadors from these countries coming in, saying what their commitment was on it. It was a remarkable achievement. And it really—you have to wonder why, if you do not want Iran to have a nuclear weapon, and then you say, well, they could have a nuclear weapon in ten years under this agreement—well, without the agreement they could have one in one year. So what’s the—what’s the logic, except some other issue? That it was negotiated by President Obama? 

We had so many national security experts, whether they were ambassadors, generals, admirals, and all the rest, supporting the agreement as well. So it had official, diplomatic, national security, technical, nuclear, et cetera, support along the way. So why? So then he comes in and undoes that, and, you know, and inflames the U.S.-Iran issue. Why? What is the—what is the purpose? And then, to—I’m not going to accuse anybody of instigating anything, but for not having a policy that would smooth the waters, so to speak. So, again, I don’t—I think he probably knows there’s no appetite for war among the American people. And I, myself, very much was against the war in Iraq. And so, you know, I see the consequences of it, and it’s very sad.  

We just came back, as I said, from Normandy. But before Normandy, around President’s weekend, we were there for the—I took a big delegation, bipartisan, to the Munich conference. And then following that, we went to Brussels. And then following that, with Mitch McConnell, we invited in a bipartisan way the secretary general of NATO to give a joint address to the Congress of the United States, it never happened before, on the 70th anniversary of NATO. I bring all of that up because in all of the—so many foreign ministers came to that. And in all of those meetings there’s real fear, concern on the part of our allies as to what our path is, what is our mission, what is our plan? How does America—how does America intend to lead? We are the greatest country that existed in history of the world. People look to us for leadership. And as recently as this weekend, we could see the concern that our allies have about the path that we’re on, including vis-à-vis Iran. 

ZAKARIA: Let me ask you about trade. The president has invoked national security as a reason to threaten or impose tariffs on a variety of countries. The law that he’s invoking is essentially a Cold War law which was meant to be about, you know, protecting the American steel industry in the geopolitical competition with the Soviet Union. He’s using it for Japanese SUVs, for Canadian aluminum. Is the president subverting the law in threatening these tariffs? 

PELOSI: Well, that law that you reference is a law that was to use that authority against our enemies. Enemies I the word in the law—against our enemies. And so, look, I don’t want to be political here. This isn’t a political arena. (Laughter.) But just understand this, Mueller report comes out, tariffs on Mexico. It’s a diversionary tactic. In the campaign, the president had two big things that he ran on that was his positive agenda—anti-immigration and anti-trade. That’s his agenda. So I mean, I heard Angela Merkel in Munich at the speech that she gave to leaders who were gathered there to say: I don’t know what the national security issue for German cars, many of which are made in South Carolina to be sold in the United States. I mean, what? 

So the trade issue is a—is a red meat issue for his base. And I’ll tell you this, I have been fighting China on trade for thirty years—since Tiananmen Square. June 4th we observed the thirtieth anniversary of the massacre in Tiananmen Square. So sad. And now you see what’s happening in Hong Kong. It’s very sad as well. But in the course of that time, we had thirty years ago—well, I didn’t start except one more year later, twenty-nine when we started legislating about what had happened there. Twenty-nine years. The trade deficit was—with China was $5 billion a year. Five billion dollars a year. Here I’m a brand-new member of Congress; David, that sounded like all the money in the world, $5 billion. We could free the prisoners of Tiananmen, gain market access for our products, stop the theft of our—the piracy of our intellectual property, and stop their proliferating of weapons technology and a delivery system, missile sales to rogue countries. Five billion dollars. Well, everybody said, no, you can’t do that, you can’t use trade, blah, blah, blah. We won and passed the Senate all the time, but we could never override a veto of President Bush or President Clinton. So you just wait and see. It’s all going to work itself out. Now the trade deficit with China is more than $5 billion a week. 

Now, I bring that up because China has a trade deficit with the EU as well. First they were using our money to buy from the EU, so the EU was making nice-nice with China. And then they did what they do: they turned on them and started having a trade surplus with the EU. So the perfect thing would be if you are going vis-à-vis China, that you would use maximum leverage, join with the EU and the U.S. to say to China it’s over, you cannot exploit this trade relation. You must abide by the rules of the WTO if you are going to be a member of the WTO and have the advantages. 

But what did the president do instead? He put tariffs on the EU. And I thought that was messing that up and not the right route to go. 

But understand I think that the trade issue is—the trade representative is fabulous. We’re working very closely with him on the Mexico-U.S.-Canada whatever it’s called, is it—after NAFTA, NAFTA 2.0, whatever you want to call it. We hope that we could be on a path to yes for that. But in other ways it’s—why would he put tariffs—certain tariffs on Mexico right when we’re about to come to some writing of an agreement except to divert attention from the Mueller report? 

ZAKARIA: Let me ask you, though, about presidential power. Is there a kind of usurpation of congressional authority? Since 1976, when Congress declared a National Emergency Act, Gerald Ford signed it, there have been—presidents have declared fifty-nine emergencies. Thirty-two are still in place. We still have national emergencies in place about Macedonia, about Lebanon, about the Iran hostage crisis. Is it time for Congress to start much more seriously overseeing these kind of executive usurpations of power? 

PELOSI: Yeah, I think Congress was—were accomplices in some of these things, but we’re dealing with presidents with whom we had shared values, and to give the president the facility to do what he needed, or hopefully one day she needed to do. But the—but it has gone too far. And you—and if it’s a national emergency, it’s one thing. But if it’s to declare a national emergency that doesn’t exist is a(n) exploitation of a—of an opportunity that shouldn’t be taken—taking place. 

ZAKARIA: He’s doing it with Saudi arms sales. There is a—there is an end run around Congress. Is there something you intend to do to prevent that or to counter it? 

PELOSI: We have a—no, Congress will vote against the arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the other countries, too. It’s unfortunate that the Emirates and Jordan—countries that had nothing to do with Yemen or to do with Khashoggi or do with other things are caught in that, but it is what we have to address. So there will be a vote to remove any authority to make those sales to Saudi Arabia. 

But there’s something more about Saudi Arabia, and that is this is nuclear technology that he is transferring to Saudi Arabia. So it runs into other acts of Congress that he must—that cannot be ignored. So this is going to be quite a discussion. 

And you have to wonder, what’s with Saudi Arabia? Why of all the countries in the world did the president of the United States choose as his first country to visit Saudi Arabia? President Bush and President Clinton, for all the presidents since Reagan, went to ether Canada or Mexico. There are plenty other allies that this president could have visited. What was the purpose of giving so much face to Saudi Arabia? Follow the money. What’s going on here? And there is a question of who is financially benefitting from the nuclear part of the sale to Saudi Arabia. So this is something that we will fight. And we’ll have bipartisan support to fight, because it’s about Yemen. You know, we already had that vote. He vetoed it, but it was a strong bipartisan vote in the Congress. And so the case against Saudi Arabia in terms of Yemen, in terms of Khashoggi, in terms of so much that they should not be receiving these kind of—these weapon sales, is very strongly bipartisan in the Congress. 

ZAKARIA: Well, President Trump be able to build his wall using Defense Department monies in— 

PELOSI: No. No. The bill that (entered at seven a.m. ?) prohibits that from happening. But we’re also in the courts. And we won in one of the courts that said you can’t use defense money for that purpose. But, again, you go one court—you never know about the courts. It depends on the venue, and the judge, and the rest. So we’ll continue to make that case. But the decision was the Congress of the United States has the authority to appropriate funds. And that’s the law. That’s the constitution. It’s right there in the Second Amendment. But it’s also in the court decision. So I always think of it, the Cs. The Constitution, the Congress, the courts. And that’s the path that we’re taking with that. 

ZAKARIA: The asylum system does seem to be overwhelmed if not broken, when you have these many people presenting themselves at the border. I know—I’m sure you don’t like what President Trump is doing, but what—surely the Democrats also have a responsibility to come up with some fix that would work? 

PELOSI: Well, we have to have comprehensive immigration reform. The Senate voted that in a very bipartisan way a few years ago, but the House speaker then would not bring it to the floor. But we have to have comprehensive immigration reform. On the question of asylum the Evangelical community has been very positive on immigration. And they testified in one of our—before we won the majority we had, I guess you would call it a rump hearing, but a hearing in which we had it. You’ll know exactly when because it was when the president had the Muslim ban. And we had a big hearing with the diplomats coming in, military people coming in, everybody coming in and saying this was wrong, it was wrong, it was wrong, including Evangelicals. 

And Evangelicals at that hearing stated—when I say Evangelicals, I don’t mean one person, I mean the representative for the American Association of Evangelicals said the following: The United States Refugee Resettlement Program is the crown jewel of American humanitarianism. The crown jewel. We have a responsibility, as all countries do, as far as refugees are concerned. In terms of what we—the situation we see now, that’s a big number there, but a small number compared to what other countries have taken in, in terms of refugees, that you know better than any of us, in terms of Syria and other safety valves for refugees coming into countries. 

But here’s the thing, we have to look at it comprehensively. The Northern Triangle countries, we have in our legislation funds to assist there, to try to alleviate the causes for the departures of these people from those countries. We have to do it in a way that goes directly to the people, or to the NGOs, and the rest, because there’s corruption wherever there’s a lot of money going into a situation like that. These people are leaving because they have no choice. They’ll either be killed, or their children will be forced to join a gang, or be killed, and the rest of that. That’s the only reason somebody would take the chance to cross a desert to try to come to our country. 

And of course, when they come here they want economic opportunity. That’s not what the asylum purpose is, but it’s about fear of—a well-founded fear of persecution, death, whatever, in their country. So we’ve got to try to keep people home by using the appropriated funds appropriately. At the border, we have to have most funds, which we have appropriated and given the administration for more judges to facilitate the process. You don’t qualify, you go back. That’s just the way it is. But not to have this tremendous backlog. The humanitarian needs are great, and we have bipartisan agreement on much of the humanitarian needs that are there. But so that is in terms of addressing the humanitarian crisis that is there. But the refugee resettlement issue—the refugee issue is—has to be part of comprehensive immigration reform. 

ZAKARIA: I’m going to open it up to questions. Before I do, I’m going to ask you one last question, which is: If you were to give advice to some of the candidates who are running for the Democratic primary as somebody, again who seems to have handled President Trump very well, what would you tell them? What is the advice you would give them about how to—how to run against Donald Trump? 

PELOSI: Forget about him. Just talk about what you have to offer. Everybody knows the situation that exists in the White House. (Laughter.) My whole thing, what I tell everybody, my candidates for Congress and the rest—and that’s, I think, one of the reasons we won in 2018, I said, don’t even mention his name. This is about what you have to offer. People are concerned about health care in America. They’re concerned about the stagnation of their wages. They’re concerned and skeptical about even government working for them rather than for the special interests. So just talk about what you have to offer. 

So I would say to them, as I say to these presidentials, show them your why. Where’s your vision? Why are you running? Show them your knowledge. What do you know about? Is it climate change? Is it economic security? What is your—what is your why? You know, what motivates you to run and think that you will be the best president of the United States? Your why, your what? What do you know? What judgement can you demonstrate by the knowledge that you have? How are you going to get it done? Vision, knowledge, strategic thinking. Show them all of that, because that’s what a leader has to demonstrate.  

But none of it counts for anything unless you connect with them heart to heart about your authenticity about the United States of America, and your connection to their hopes and dreams, aspirations, and apprehensions—the fears that they have. Authenticity is everything in terms of how they make a judgement about the—they figure we’re all about the greatness of America. They don’t know—I mean, they want to see a demonstration of knowledge and therefore judgement. You want plans? Everybody’s got plans. Go to my website. But the connection, the connection, is the most important thing. 

So I would just tell them why you’re running, what you care about, and how you intend to make it happen to improve their lives. If you ask them about him, you could talk about a level of integrity that you would bring to the White House. But I wouldn’t—I really wouldn’t go there so much. How to deal with him? Because, you see, what he does is he projects. Like when he says, Nancy’s a mess, that means he’s a mess. When he says, Nancy’s nervous, that means he’s nervous. He’s always projecting, disowning his own—you know, somebody doesn’t have stamina. It’s always about him. He’s always talking about himself, no matter who the subject of the sentence is. (Laughter.) It’s always about him. 

I mean, I have—I mean, really, there has to be an intervention here. But that’s a—(laughter)—I don’t recommend that any candidate for president make that intervention. 

ZAKARIA: You’re the one to do it, if there’s an intervention. 

PELOSI: Well, the thing is, is that I respect the office of the president of the United States. Sometimes I think I respect it more than the person holding the office right now. I respect the office of the president. I respect the people who voted for Donald Trump for president. They have their fears, their apprehensions, their hopes. He gave them reason to think. I also know that he did—you know, what is the one bill he’s passed in Congress? Tax breaks to give 83 percent of the bill—of the tax benefits to the top 1 percent, because that’s not about the people who voted for him.  

So you do have to get to a place to talk about policy and make a contrast, but when they’re—when you are—so that part of it is the—is what—is the excitement of a campaign. What are your policies? How are you different, differentiate? How would you do something better? It’s not about the politics of personal destruction, and how I’m going to make you look bad because I’m going to call you a name. Oh, really? In terms of the president. And the biggest contrast will be to be about policy, to be about integrity, and not to be worried about any—who can be more clever in characterizing the current occupant of the White House. 

And let me just say one more thing because you—I call her so many things— 

Q: No, no, it’s your— 

PELOSI: Governor, Secretary, Madam President of the University of California, Grace—Janet Napolitano—Grace—(inaudible)—and she said I’m the most powerful woman. I don’t necessarily subscribe to that, but it’s a very sad thing for me because I certainly thought that at this point we would have a woman president of the United States. So every time I’m introduced as the most powerful I think, boo-hoo, boo-hoo—(laughs)—but 17 months from now we’ll have a new president of the United States. 

ZAKARIA: All right—(applause)—now we always say this, but I will actually exercise my powers here. Please, no speeches, no long-winded comments. We are—in the hope that we can get more people’s questions answered, if you can raise your hands, identify yourself, and ask a brief question to the speaker, that would be wonderful. 

PELOSI: No speeches disguised as questions? 

ZAKARIA: Yeah, you’re—no speeches disguised—and that never happens in the House of Representatives, I’m sure. (Laughter.) 

Q: My name is Roger Parkinson. 

This may be off Council on Foreign Relations policy, but you have served in the Congress with a number of Republican speakers of the House. I wonder if you could give us a brief thumbnail evaluation, or description of the different Republican speakers that have been there since you’ve been there. How are they similar and how are they different? 

PELOSI: Well, I would only say that I served—when I came there we had Democratic speakers, and the contrast between them and the Republicans was vast in terms of love of the institution, respectful of the fact that you are the speaker of the whole House. So the first Republican I served with was Dennis Hastert, and he really wasn’t the—he was sort of the front person. Tom DeLay really ran the show, so there wasn’t a strong speakership there. 

More personable, amiable is John Boehner but, see, they couldn’t keep their caucus together. I mean, he would come to meetings and say, yes, we’ll do this or that, and then not be able to do it. So it was really not about the speaker so much as what the Republican caucus had become with the Tea Party and the rest of that. 

And I don’t know how much they all embraced the possibilities of the job. Speaker Ryan—you hear what the president has to say about him—the last two were really presiding over caucuses that they couldn’t really deliver on. And this will be violating the rules, and this may be too long to answer, but since you asked this specific question, this is to me emblematic of what we had to deal with on the other side of the aisle with a Republican speaker. 

In 2013, some of you may recall the—there were all the budget debates and this or that. And then the government was shut down, but here’s what happened. We came to a budget agreement—and now we’re in the discussion of the caps and the debt ceiling right now again going into the summer—but we came to a budget agreement—House and Senate, Democrats and Republicans, President Obama—that we would have one trillion fifty-eight billion dollars as the number that we would mark up to. This may be more—this is what we do day to day so forgive me for being—(laughs)—one trillion fifty-eight billion dollars. 

We didn’t think it was a good number, but it was a compromise, and we have—you know, with Democrats and Republicans so you have to compromise. So, OK, so we agree to that number. Everybody agrees. So we start to mark up our appropriations bills to that number when the House Republicans said, we can’t live with that number—which they had agreed to as their number. We are not going over, like, 988—something like that, a much lower number—seventy, eighty billion dollars less. 

But their chairman of the Appropriations Committee, Mr. Rogers—a beautiful man from Kentucky—he said that—he said the—we cannot meet the needs of the American people at that number. Ten—a trillion fifty-eight (dollars), that’s as low as we can go. We cannot meet the needs of the American people with the number that his Republican Party was advocating in the House. 

It was awful. My members were, oh, this is outrageous. It’s wrong. It’s blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. I said—you know, we’ll never vote for this. I said, you know what, criticize it all you want, but don’t say you’re not going to vote for it. Just—you know, it helps me. It gives me leverage if you criticize it because you truly believe it’s wrong—and it is wrong, and even Mr. Rogers, the chairman of Appropriations, says it’s wrong. But they’re threatening to shut down government if we don’t—(inaudible).  

So we tried to persuade them this or that. They tried and had their own debate internally. No way. So I called the speaker, John Boehner, and I say, my caucus is in an uproar—is in an uproar over this number. But I will promise you two hundred votes for the 988 (billion dollars), whatever it is, so that you don’t shut down government. Two hundred votes so we can keep government open. Needless to say, my caucus was not happy.  

But and he said, I can’t do it. I said, what do you mean; we’re agreeing to your number. This is the House Republican number. The president of the United States, the Senate—Democrats and Republicans—and now the House Democrats are all agreeing to your number so that you don’t shut down government. He said, I can’t do it—I don’t have the votes. So they just put out the number as a taunt because they really don’t believe that much in governance and shutting down government didn’t mean that much to them. They shut down government. Seventeen days later, government was opened by popular demand and the rest, and most of them— 

ZAKARIA: At what—at what number? 

PELOSI: That number, still the stinking lousy rotten number that nobody was going to vote for, and most of them voted to keep government shut down, including Mick Mulvaney, who’s now in the—so they didn’t—I mean, imagine that they demanded a lower number and then said, we cannot deliver the votes for our own number.  

So that isn’t—that’s just, like, well, what are you doing here—you know, what is the point. The point was they wanted us to walk away from the number and say we shut down government, because they didn’t really care about shutting down government. Now, I’m telling you some of the atmospherics in the—I hope that’s not too bad a news for you, but (it’s what it is ?). 

ZAKARIA: All right. I’d love to ask a woman—yeah. No man— 

PELOSI: Oh, and by the way, we gave them one hundred and ninety-eight votes because two people were sick. (Laughter.) 

Q: Alana Ackerson. 

Madam Secretary, as you—or, I’m sorry, Speaker—as you said—we’ve been wandering—as you—as you said— 

ZAKARIA: That’s your next job. 

Q: —there have been lots of distractions recently, lots of noise. What are the issues of foreign policy and foreign relations that we’re not paying nearly enough attention to that you’re concerned about right now, beyond the general noise and hand waving? Where should we be putting more time and attention because it’s consequential? 

ZAKARIA: Let’s do one thing so we can get other—one issue that we’re not paying attention to? 

PELOSI: Well, I do think that we have to look at, you know, how we are—I was the ranking member on the Foreign Operations Committee. We just marked up that bill that’s being debated right now and we’ll vote on Monday, and we have $56 billion in there for soft power diplomacy, Steven, and the—that’s, like, 25 percent more than the president has in his bill for diplomacy and the—(inaudible). 

So here’s the way we see it. Here we are, the United States of America, the greatest country that ever existed in the world. What is our foreign policy about? It’s about the security of the American people. It’s about economic success and security. It’s about exporting our values—military, values, economic.  

On the military piece of it we have a strong military, our interaction with our allies, and nonproliferation is a very important piece of security—of the global security. So one place—I mean, there are so many—but certainly we’re addressing the needs of the military. I wish that it were with clearer mission and better use of the money, but that’s—OK, we’ll have a strong military. 

In terms of our interaction with our allies, I’ll go back to what I said earlier. There is a concern among some of our allies of our support for institutions, OK now at Bretton Woods and I understand you’re having a conference—all of the things and others like NATO, our financial—multilateral development bank, all of that. But in terms of security, if we’re just taking security, there is real—we’re very pleased that in a bipartisan way in the Congress, House and Senate, that we are at a different place, sending a different message to our allies about our commitment and our recognition that this is about our mutual security. And then the nonproliferation is very scary in terms of what they did through the Iran agreement, but also now willing to sell technology to Saudi Arabia. 

So I would just say that I wish we were doing more to promote our values. I did agree with Mr.—Secretary Pompeo’s comment on China and Hong Kong. But I don’t see that we’re doing as much of that as I would like us to. 

My favorite thing—and I’ll just end with this—I was at President Kennedy’s inauguration as a student before some of you were born, so read about it in a history book. But you do know that he said to the people of America, citizens of America, “Ask not what your country”—everybody knows that, right, in the whole world. The very next sentence in that speech—and it just hit me so as a student—the very next sentence in the speech was to the citizens of the world, ask not what America can do for you, but what we can do working together for the freedom of mankind. That elevation of purpose, of why, of who we are and what our responsibilities are. 

So I would say in one sentence—(laughs)—what concerns me is that we are not honoring our responsibilities as leaders in the world under the current circumstances. But there is bipartisan support in the Congress, House and Senate, to do so. 

ZAKARIA: All right. We have a tradition at the Council of ending on time, so I will take one final question right at the back there. So, yeah, you. Again, brief question. 

Q: Yes. Oh, thank you. I’m Richard Downie from Delphi Strategic Consulting. And thank you very much, Madam Speaker, for all your remarks. 

PELOSI: Thank you. 

Q: One of the things we haven’t talked about is North Korea. The objective of the Trump administration in the negotiations has been the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and I’m wondering if you could talk about your views or perhaps the consensus of views of your members on what our policy really ought to be, our objective ought to be. Is it denuclearization? Is it something less? What really ought to be our approach, in your view? Thank you. 

PELOSI: Thank you for your question. I’m one of the very few members of Congress, very few—I don’t even think a handful of members—who have been to Pyongyang. I was there twenty years ago, was on a(n) intelligence visit. It was really scary. 

This is a thugocracy, and that the president is giving face to Kim Jong-un is just beyond the pale to me. But, yes, the goal would be the denuclearization of the peninsula. I have a large—blessed with a large Korean American—in California, many Korean Americans, our country’s blessed with. And they want to see people-to-people, bring the country together, the rest of that. But it has to be denuclearized. 

The question is, how serious is China about helping to make that happen? How interested would they—denuclearized, yes, but how interested are they in a united Korea? I don’t know. So we really haven’t gotten all of the cooperation that I think we could have had. 

When I went there the message was China and North Korea were as close as lips and teeth. You remember that, Steven (sp). That was the thing. Now they say there’s some differences. 

But the—it is—I have seen poverty all over America because, as I said, my committee was the Foreign Ops. And that’s USAID, it’s all of that. Go visit how effective our policies and our initiatives are. And I never saw anything like North Korea. I would, you know, be in Haiti, and think: God, where are you? Please shine your light on this country. It’s so sad. It’s so poor. And then you go to North Korea and you think, oh my gosh, this is worse because there’s a poverty of spirit, the brainwashing of the people. It’s a horrible, horrible place. So for the president to give face and “good guy” and all that, all of that is—it’s really they won. 

They had a tremendous victory in all of this. And what have they done? Nothing. In the agreement to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula—remember that the president came back?—they never mentioned denuclearize one time. You know why? The North Koreans would not allow it to be in the statement because they had no intention of doing. This is a big challenge because they’re rogue. 

My concern about them twenty years ago and now is that they’re proliferators. When we were there, they wanted to be off the—it has different names. It used to be rogue states, then it was countries of concern. Richard knows all the names. (Laughs.) They wanted to be off that list so they could have advantages and a relationship. And we said, well, you’ve got to stop selling these weapons. They said—you know they do it for the money—we’ll sell the missiles to you; we only do it for the money. Well, they have a geopolitical agenda as well. But I do maintain that when they are doing their tests and stuff, it’s their dog-and-pony show for selling that stuff to bad actors in terms of other countries. 

So I keep saying to the administration, be careful of them as proliferators. Because if they use a weapon, it’s a got a return address. They’re dead, right? You know, and we would have our anti—our actions to prevent something from hitting us. But—they shouldn’t start that. But who they sell to, and maybe not a(n) intercontinental missile but in terms of other technologies, is a danger—a danger to the world. 

So I would say this has to be multilateral. Everything that is multilateral is really much more effective anyway. And they have to know that there is a global intervention into—as to what they are doing, and that they’re not going to get praised to the sky for being good guys whom the president of the United States loves. 

I’m not—in the interest of time I’m not going on to what you see when you go to North Korea, but it’s—that was twenty years ago, so maybe things have improved somewhat in terms of starvation in a country that advocates self-reliance as their mantra. But I thank you for your question. 

It’s a—this is big because this is really hopefully—I would like to think the remaining nuclear threat in terms of proliferation, but that would be probably too optimistic. But nonetheless, a very significant one. And proliferation—I mentioned this—one of the pillars of our security we talked about, that is—the deterrence of it all, that’s a—that’s so essential, and America has to be preeminent in all of that. That’s why I’m disappointed in what the president did in terms of Iran. 

Since that was the last question, may I thank you, Fareed? And let me just say I’m so happy to be here. The first time I came here Pete Peterson interviewed me, and I love him so much. Such a darling man. Yesterday—a couple of days ago I participated in his fiscal conference in Washington, D.C. So I’m very honored to be—my family’s very excited that I’m being interviewed by Fareed Zakaria because he’s—(laughter)—he’s the future. He’s a present and the future. 

ZAKARIA: Well, let me—let me give you one thing to toss in, because you had said to me that you like one element of the show, which was the Book of the Week. And you’ve actually in the past been kind enough to send me books to—one of which I did recommend. Let me hand the Book of the Week recommendation over to you this week. What book would you recommend that you’ve recently read that you think people would profit from? 

PELOSI: Well, I’m going to just tell you what I sent, Fareed, because it was—because the writer is Italian, so that’s—(laughter)—Umberto Eco. But he wrote a book called The Island of the Day Before, which was enjoyable. And—(inaudible)—this ship is here, here it’s a different day. And it’s about longitude. Are you into longitude? (Laughter.) The longitude was the power play of the age of discovery. You could tell latitude by the stars, but if you could tell longitude and be able to return to where you planted a flag, that was a big deal. 

So I sent Fareed two books. One was The Island of the Day Before, which is a novel. And the other one is Longitude, about how finally longitude was able to be determined and maintained on a ship in the salty seas, and the rest of that. If that doesn’t really turn you on—(laughter)—for a complete change of total pace, one thing I was reading recently was something called Circe, which is about Greek mythology. So that’s to get your mind off of your day job. (Laughter.) 

But let me just say this, because I come here—I mentioned when I came before as a House Democratic leader for the first time with Pete Peterson and the Council of Foreign Relations, it was a big honor. This time I come as speaker of the House, in a House that has so many more women members. And it’s such a n honor for us, as we—in this Congress, we will observe the one hundredth anniversary of women receiving the right to vote—fighting for it, marching for it, and not getting it. When the vote came forth it said: Women given the right to vote. Not given. Not given at all. (Laughter.) That’s a whole other subject. 

But now in the Congress, in this Congress that we’ll celebrate the one hundredth anniversary of women having the right to vote, we have a hundred and—we have 105 members—women members of Congress. First time we’ve gone over a hundred. Ninety-one of them are Democrats, but—(laughter)—in any event, I find that to be the most wholesome advance that we can make. The more women in politics and in government, I think the more wholesome it all is. So I encourage all women to know their power, get out there, and run for office or help others do so. And, again, to make the difference. And, again to strive in a way that has transparency, so people know what’s going on. Bipartisanship to the extent that you can achieve it. And unifying, E pluribus unum, as our founders intended.  

So thank you for the opportunity. (Applause.) 


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